Image courtesy of Kymm McLean Self-employed workers hurt by coronavirus
Image courtesy of Kymm McLean

This self-employed, professional makeup artist and hair stylist in Charlotte, North Carolina, has lost 90% of her business because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Kymm McLean has spent the last 10 years building up her business, but in the span of a week, her livelihood has been thrown into jeopardy.

McLean, a self-employed hair stylist and make-up artist in Charlotte, North Carolina, has seen her life turned upside down as 90% of her clients have canceled amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s devastated me,” McLean said. “Everything is canceling,” 

McLean works with everyone from NASCAR drivers to Carolina Panthers players to brides, but virtually all of her jobs have canceled on her as people begin practicing “social distancing.” Weddings and other large events over 50 people continue to be canceled or postponed in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

McLean said she always takes strict disinfection and sanitary measures, but understands why people are canceling. The novel coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets exchanged by people who are in close contact with one another, which makes jobs like McLean’s among the riskiest there are.

“I touch people for a living … You’re hiring someone who touches you,” McLean said. “I’m not angry that people are canceling, I get it, I completely understand. I don’t blame anybody, I can’t say I wouldn’t cancel myself.”

McLean also said her job is expendable: “Nobody ever in the history of the world needs a make-up artist.” This puts her in an even more precarious position as other workers lose their jobs and disposable incomes amid the economic turmoil. 

While the damage is occurring in real-time, it’s starting to become clear just how devastating the pandemic is going to be for workers. A survey conducted March 13 and 14 found that 18% of American workers had been laid off or seen their hours reduced.

“What is the government going to do for all these self-employed people?”

The number of unemployment claims, a key indicator of job loss, has also spiked in recent days. In Pennsylvania, more than 100,000 people have already filed for unemployment this week while Minnesota officials saw more than 31,000 applications filed on Monday and Tuesday. In Ohio, the Department of Job and Family Services said 36,645 claims were filed Monday, which is usually the number of claims the department receives in a full month, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

In McLean’s home state of North Carolina, 4,721 people filed for unemployment due to COVID-19 between noon Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday, Larry Parker, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Employment Security, told The News & Observer. In order to help the newly unemployed, Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday issued an executive order removing several restrictions on the state’s unemployment benefits to make it easier for people to access them. Cooper’s order might provide some relief, but it doesn’t address the root problem of the job layoffs, which are expected to continue. 

In a scenario where North Carolina’s unofficial lock-down continues for just two months, the damage in the state could be catastrophic, and could lead to as many as 200,000 North Carolinians finding themselves unemployed, according to an estimate from Greg Brown, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also warned lawmakers Tuesday that the nation’s unemployment rate, which currently sits at 3.5%, could reach nearly 20%.

McLean knows how bad it could get, which is why she wants to know what the plan is. 

Kymm-McLean
Kymm McLean

“What is the government going to do for all these self-employed people?” McLean asked. “I mean, we’re looking at people within two weeks who can’t pay their rent, you know? What are they going to do? Are they going to do anything?”

The government has launched a three-phase plan to address the growing damage being wrought by coronavirus. Phase one was an $8.3 billion bill to fund coronavirus vaccine research and development and phase two, which President Trump signed into law on Wednesday, includes free coronavirus testing for anyone who needs a test, paid emergency leave for qualified workers, expanded unemployment insurance, and additional funding for food security initiatives and Medicaid.

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The phase three effort, which is estimated to cost $1 trillion, is currently being negotiated, but an outline of the proposal released Wednesday revealed it would include $2,000 for most Americans, $300 billion in aid to small businesses, $50 billion in loans to airlines, and $150 billion for other “severely distressed industries.”

McLean is skeptical that the government will actually distribute money to everyone and wishes they’d focus on housing-related efforts first. 

“You can’t put millions of people on the street, so what’s going to happen three weeks from now when everybody’s late on their rent or their mortgage?” she asked, “I’m telling you right now, I have several friends who are like, ‘I will not be able to pay my rent.’ So what’s going to happen to all these people?…Housing’s got to be number one or half the country’s going to be living outside.”

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the federal government would suspend all foreclosures and evictions through the end of April, but McLean thinks they need to go a step further and embrace rent forgiveness.

“I think it needs to be forgiveness, because quite frankly, if I got a month behind in rent, I couldn’t come up with two months worth. I’m a single girl, I support myself, and I know a lot of people that wouldn’t be able to, so I think it actually needs to be forgiveness, not just delayed payments.”

McLean isn’t alone. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for rent and mortgage suspensions, as have tenant advocates.

Those calls finally seem to be leading to at least consideration of assistance for renters. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, released a proposal on Wednesday that includes substantial aid for renters. Waters’ plan would not only ban all evictions and foreclosure nationwide, but it would also suspend rental and utility payments for renters in public housing and those receiving federal rental assistance.

Under Waters’ proposal, the federal government would also provide $100 billion to help non-assisted renters who meet certain economic conditions cover their rent and utility payments. The plan did not specify what those conditions are, but this proposal, if enacted, could be a lifeline for people like McLean.

Still, such a measure is likely days, if not weeks away—if it’s enacted at all—and the lack of quick government action has frustrated McLean. She understands the severity of the crisis and why people are canceling on her, but just wants some sort of reassurance from the government.

“Why make us live in terror, in fear, in anxiety? Like why isn’t someone saying ‘Please, follow the rules, follow the guidelines, work with us, do this, and we will take care of you,’” she asked. “There’s no plan. If there’s a plan, they’re not sharing it, so everyone’s anxiety is through the roof. What’s the plan? Tell us something.”

McLean isn’t just worried about the short term, either. She has no idea what the future holds for her.

“Will my career even exist after this? How long would it take me to rebound from this?” she wondered. “It’s a huge hit for people that are self employed to go perhaps weeks without income … I feel like we worked for so long and you just snap your fingers and this could just be gone.”